The Swim-based survey projects group at Geoteam-Wimpol (formely Wimpol Ltd) Have been involved with air accident search and recovery operations since the mid 1980?s as contractor for the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport Other international projects have also been undertaken. The demands, equipment, methods and results of this unpredictable and often tragic type of seabed search and recovery task are presented, together with a brief description of new developments.

Case histories from particular incidents are used to demonstrate the range of techniques involved


Location and then recovery of aircraft lost at sea uses equipment and methods similar to those of other modern offshore industries, but with some significantly different objectives and constraints. As a major offshore geo-survey contractor, now part of the Fugro group, Geoteam-Wimpol has adapted its survey project management and operational methods to deal with these problems, in a number of tasks for the AAIB and others over the past decade or so

As contractor to the Air Accident Investigation Board, the UK Government body responsible for investigation of all accidents involving U K registered aircraft or any civil aircraft within the UK waters, we have undertaken many operations around the British coast We recommend the optimum technical and commercial solution, and procure and provide the vessels, equipment and personnel necessary A diverse range of other projects have been undertaken internationally for a number of non-traditional clients.

Typically, speed is of the essence, to enable recovery of evidence of the cause of an accident, before the destructive action of the sea takes effect Early and fresh evidence may then enable improvements in the safety of similar air operations, or at least, enable resumption of operations soonest if no generic fault is attributable to the aircraft or systems However, in contrast to a typical fast-track oil industry job, planning time is often almost non existent, and, depending on results achieved at each stage of the operation, new directions may be necessary.

This paper outlines the tasks, tools and techniques involved, and indicates some recent technological and organizational developments.

Finally, some case histories are presented to illustrate the activities associated with this type of man-made object on the sea floor.

A variety of salvage objectives

In principle, the activities to be discussed here are those of salvage The basic AAIB support task is to locate and recover a downed aircraft as quickly as possible after notification of loss, in an optimised technical and commercial manner. Maintaining the condition of the raised items is critical to their usefulness in the investigation of the cause of the crash Time is critical to enable prompt analysis of cause, and to take advantage of the transmission from the location pinger carried by the aircraft, which has a finite battery life.

Other projects may not have quite the same urgency, due to an extended commercial or political process being necessary to decide the need and budget for such an operation, and indeed who will be the paymaster.

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